Shiho Fukada


@Shiho Fukada

@Shiho Fukada / Panos Pictures

Japan’s Disposable Workers: Lost in Global Unemployment

One billion people, 30% of the world’s workforce, are jobless. The standard job, with a 40-hour work week, medical benefits and a pension at age 65, is on the wane. Disposable workers – who are easily fired without a social safety net– are becoming the norm. Globalization has created unbalanced, unfair, and unsustainable labor conditions that affect us all, not just developing countries.

My project is to document and report on lives of Japanese workers who have found themselves “disposable” in recent economic turmoils. My goal is to put a human face on modern disposable workers and what it means to be part of a disposable labor force in the third-largest economy as it struggles to remain globally competitive.

Disposable workers are a recent phenomenon in Japan. For a decades, Japanese companies cultivated a system of life-time employment. Change came with the recession and massive layoffs of the 1990s and deregulation on temporary laborers. As a result, the number of temporary low-paid workers has surged to a third of Japan’s work force of 67 million. The Increase of disposable workers has affected different walks of life, from blue collar workers to salary men among all ages, and cast shadow on national psyche, exacerbating isolation and suicide.

Much of the world used to look at Japan’s economy with admiration and jealousy; now they wonder what went wrong — and what lessons can be learned. Once proud of their large middle class, the small gap between rich and poor, lifetime employment and social security, the Japanese now see the homeless flooding Tokyo, with part-time workers sleeping at internet café because they can’t afford rent and the young and educated seeking careers in nightclubs. I believe Japan is a compelling place to show how economic transformation affects ordinary people and communities.

Words from our Jury Panel:

“The lives of the homeless is often covered by documentaries, but I was drawn very much to Shiho’s work, which closes the distance between them and the people who love them. The unavoidable situations in which they had no choice but to be homeless, and often having to leave their homes so as not to trouble their family, makes a powerful statement that points a finger at a society that brought about this reality. Shiho’s strong construction and careful coverage enables us to feel this.”
– Yuko Yamaji, Curator at Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Arts

“The pictures of Shiho Fukada are strong and extraordinary as they focus on the social problems in one of the richest countries in the world. Japan is facing substantial economical problems over the last years and especially the elderly people have to cope with problems they were not used too. Shiho’s photos show the pain and shame of a whole generation In a very discreet but visually strong manner.”
– Dirk Claus, Photoeditor Asia, Stern Magazine


I’m a Japanese photographer based in Beijing, China. I have a BA in English literature and worked in the fashion and advertising industries in New York before becoming a photojournalist in 2004. After working in New York for 5 years and traveling the world, I decided to look at where I came from for inspiration, the place I ignored for a decade. I moved to Beijing, China in 2008 and returned to Japan in 2010. It’s there that I found one of my current projects, documenting the changing dynamics in Asian economic powers- China, the new second biggest economy in the world, and Japan, the third replaced by China last year – my new and old homes. I’d like to continue documenting the rise of China and how its power affects Japan and the rest of Asia.

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